Tuesday, August 9, 2022
The following story is based on a Poem by Loren Eiseley called The Star Thrower:
Once upon a time, there was a man walking along the shore. As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day. So he began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn’t dancing, but instead, he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.
As he got closer, he called out, “Good morning! What are you doing?” The young man paused, looked up and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I guess I should have asked, “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”
“The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don’t throw them in they’ll die.
“But young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can’t possibly make a difference!”
The young man listened politely. Then bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. “It made a difference for that one!” https://starthrower.com/pages/the-star-thrower-story
How do you save the world? One starfish at a time. That seems to be how God does it. When you look at the history of salvation as revealed in the Bible, God often begins the work through a single person. When God decided to create one special nation who would enter into a personal, covenant-based relationship with Him, He began with one man, a man named Abram (later Abraham). God entered into a special bond with Abraham and promised to make him into a great nation that would eventually bring blessing to all the earth. Abraham was the father of the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people. Israel’s mission as God’s people was to be a light to all the nations of the world.
Israel struggled to fulfill that calling from God and became very inward-focused. They elevated their unique relationship with God and emphasized their “set apart” status, worn as a badge of superiority. They lost the mission imperative that God first gave to Abraham.
God always had the heart to reach all people, not just descendants of Abraham by birth. When the time came to expand his relationship with all humans and open the doors of salvation to the nations not descended from Abraham, God again started small. Through one man, Jesus of Nazareth, God’s only begotten Son, God would open the doors of salvation to people from every nation.
It was difficult for many of Abraham’s descendants to grasp that in Christ, God was extending his saving hand to all people. One of the issues the early church wrestled with was “what is necessary for one who is not a descendant of Abraham, not from the nation of Israel, to do to become a member of God’s chosen people?” The church agreed that they needed to be baptized into Jesus Christ and be obedient to Christ as their Lord and observe the basic commandments to not worship idols, not steal, kill, commit adultery or misuse the name of the Lord. But still, for many of the descendants of Abraham who had lived separated lives, eaten special kosher food, and not shared meals with Gentiles, it was very difficult for them to imagine embracing those Gentiles, whom they had previously considered to be nothing better than dogs, as equals in the sight of God.
While Peter, James, and the other Apostles continued to make their primary focus on sharing the message of Jesus Christ died and risen and coming again as King with their fellow Israelites, the Apostle Paul was called by God to bring that same message about Jesus to the Gentiles. Through Paul’s preaching and missionary work, God’s kingdom was expanding to include people from every nation, and language on earth. God made it clear to Peter in a vision that the dietary laws that they followed as Jews and the physical act of having all males circumcised were not to be a requirement for Gentiles coming into the Church. You didn’t have to become a Jew in order to become a Christian. But this did not sit well with many Jewish Christians who found it challenging to let go of those old prejudices and barriers.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written to correct his fellow Jewish Christian and convince them to change their attitudes and practices in relation to Gentile Converts. When they tried to make the Gentiles become Jews when they became Christians, Paul called this a “different gospel”. They were creating unnecessary barriers to salvation.
Do we today put up unnecessary barriers to salvation for people who are outside of the Church? Sometimes we place our cultural preferences and traditions in the same category as the message of Jesus Christ and require others to jump through those hoops in order to be accepted into the Church. When we create extra requirements beyond the basic teaching of the gospels and expect people to meet our cultural expectations in order to be saved, we are preaching a different gospel and keeping people away from Jesus and his saving love.
Questions for Discussion:
1. What can the young man in the Star Thrower teach us about going about the overwhelming task of rescuing the world from sin?
2. What are some unnecessary barriers to salvation that you have observed in church or in your own witness to unbelievers?